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Study Raises Concerns About Risks of Diabetes Drug

A study released Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the diabetes drug Avandia increases the risk of heart attack. NewsHour health correspondent Susan Dentzer explains the findings.

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    Since it first became available in 1999, Avandia has become a popular medication to help control Type 2 diabetes, used by 2 million people a year worldwide. But a study released today by the New England Journal of Medicine has raised some big questions, suggesting the drug significantly increases the risk of heart attacks and death.

    Here to tell us more is Susan Dentzer of our Health Unit. The unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Susan, first, tell us more about the study and what it found?

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Jeff, a well-known cardiologist named Dr. Steve Nissen, who's with the Cleveland Clinic, who is one of the people who actually raised concerns early on about the drug Vioxx, which is the pain-relieving drug that was pulled off the market in 2004, basically began to look at some results that had been published over the last year in medical journals about this drug, Avandia, which, as we said, is a large — it's the largest oral medication used for Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes, but now it affects so many kids and adolescents that it's just called Type 2.

    He got concerned about these results, because one of the complications of diabetes can be heart disease. And so it's one of the things you want to prevent. These trial results that he looked at actually showed that, although the drug was effective in controlling diabetes, particularly when compared to other drugs or dummy pills, it also raised the risk of heart attacks.

    He got concerned enough about this that he went to the Web site of the manufacturer of Avandia, which is GlaxoSmithKline, looked at the results of all of the trials, and put together what's called a meta-analysis, which is a statistical way of grouping lots of studies together.

    When he grouped together 42 different studies, he showed statistically that Avandia caused a 43 percent increased risk of heart attack in the patients who took it, as opposed to control groups, and a 64 percent increased risk of death. So he actually just performed this analysis several weeks ago.


    This all happened very quickly?


    Very quickly, it was speeded to the New England Journal of Medicine, a very fast peer-review process…


    Which also put it out very quickly, right?


    … put it out online, and basically in the space of less than a month, these study results are out.